Archive for the ‘Western’ Category

‘The Rebel’ Season Two DVD Review: War is Over

November 16, 2015

The Rebel S2Something didn’t add up. The Rebel had 36 Season One episodes, then a whopping 40 for Season Two. Then the 1959-61 half-hour western series was canceled?

Shout! Factory’s release of Season Two on DVD Nov. 17 clears that up, thanks to a generous sixth disc loaded with extras. They explain how a botched negotiation with ABC caused the highly successful show — the network’s top Sunday night drama — to be axed.

Even so, The Rebel amassed 76 total episodes of stark if not dark western dramas — episodes with strong casts, plots, direction and performances. And with the new bonus features, we can gain an even greater appreciation and perspective for this standout in a vast herd of TV oaters.

They start with Looking Back at The Rebel, a 66-minute interview by Bob Anderson of writer-producer (he’d say producer-writer) A.J. Fenady, a classic, cigar-puffing Hollywood raconteur.

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DVD Review ‘The Rebel: Season One’

August 16, 2015

nick-adamsGiven recent uproars about Confederate flags representing modern-day racism, The Rebel: Season One, new from Shout! Factory Tuesday at Warlmart, is timely. (A Complete Series set also is available online.)

Is it racist? Does it emblazon the screen with Confederate images?

No and no. Instead, this stark and stout Western drama, whose two seasons aired on ABC from 1959-61, has a lone wandering hero, Johnny Yuma (Nick Adams, who also co-created), possessing a strong moral compass — and it doesn’t just point South.

For all the treacherous varmints Johnny meets while roaming the West in 1867, the former soldier’s saga has humanism and compassion at its heart, as he helps the innocent and defies the prairie scum. Though he still wears a Rebel cap, Johnny rarely mentions the war (he served from Texas, on the Confederacy’s fringe), which seems to have both scarred and spurred him to seek meaning in a troubled world, as he conveys in journals he keeps as an aspiring, soul-searching writer.

“There’s different kinds of wars,” Johnny says. “There’s wars that go on inside.”

He also wields a mean double-barreled sawed-off shotgun given to him in the first episode. Groovy.

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Blu-ray/DVD Review ‘The Gambler’: Ace in the Hole

November 3, 2013

gambler

It’s been many years since I’ve seen 1980 TV movie The Gambler, new on Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday, Nov. 5 from Shout! Factory. But it’s hard to forget it, especially since I witnessed the filming of its final sequel.

That was 1994’s The Gambler V: Playing for Keeps, which was shot partly in Galveston. Covering the shoot for the Houston Chronicle, I interviewed star Kenny Rogers in his trailer, and we reminisced about his background as a good ol’ Houston boy and his music career’s start in the New Christy Minstrels and the vastly underrated the First Edition.

Now the original film makes its Blu-ray debut in a set which also features a DVD, neither of which has any extras. So if you already have this western, be advised the newness here is limited to the Blu-ray format. (more…)

Landmark TV western Bonanza on DVD looks great, gets better

September 13, 2009

Fans of Bonanza, rejoice. The landmark TV western finally has an official, formal, studio-sanctioned DVD release, with two volumes comprising its first season, which aired 1959-60. Sold separately or as a full-season set, they’re newly available Tuesday, Sept. 15 from Paramount.

Bonanza’s landmark status derives principally from one big thing: It was the first network TV show — ever — to be shot entirely in color. Bonanza led the way for turning NBC into the “peacock” network, brandishing its emblem and its color status for all viewers to know, if not fully appreciate, even while most watched on b&w-only sets.

From the start, the show had strong production values in other ways, too, including handsome exterior shoots and impressive sets. It also recruited top names for guest stars. The pilot episode, for one, has film actress Yvonne De Carlo — in five years bound for The Munsters — as an actress/singer visiting Virginia City.

Want more landmark status? Bonanza was the second longest-running western series ever, with 14 seasons. (Gunsmoke is first with 20.)

Yet on DVD it’s been a no-show till now, aside from 31 episodes bridging seasons one and two which fell into public domain and have been sold on the cheap by a variety of labels. Now Bonanza is getting its due, with beautifully packaged discs (which even list location sites) and prints which include such treats as network bumpers.

Only trouble is, Bonanza from the get-go wasn’t the same show as it came to be. The all-male Cartwright family led by patriarch Ben (Lorne Greene) was a greedy, darkly vigilant, ever suspicious and quick to belligerence bunch. Sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon) were quick to pick fights, and despite owning 1,000 square miles (!) of choice Nevada real estate in the mid 1800s,  the ranching Cartwrights didn’t take kindly to anyone crossing their Ponderosa’s massive borders, or selling their lumber for a fair price. These men seemed almost mean.

Fortunately, by season three they’ll have lightened up and become the more benevolent wealthy landowners that later were created from the start for The Big Valley (which had its own token violent hothead in Nick, played by Peter Breck, but was otherwise a kinder, gentler show throughout). In Bonanza seasons to come, it won’t hurt to have a few more women in the mix, too. When a show’s premise is an all-male family where three wives have all died, you have to wonder a bit. Too macho, that’s for sure. And the blithe racism toward Chinese underlings is “velly” tough to take, too.

Sure, Bonanza was a product of its times, and you have to allow for that. But we’re all now products of these times, too, and the show’s initial insensitivity doesn’t wear well. Still, in many ways, and in seasons to come, it’s a quality if not classy production which stands the test of time, so be patient with season one. Evolution is in the works.

Besides, that theme song is one of TV’s greatest ever. It even has lyrics, as you’ll learn later on. “We got hold of a pot of gold Bonanza.” Saddle up!

Review: ‘The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series’ puts it all in one box

November 4, 2008

If you’ve put off picking up each of the four individual season sets for The Wild Wild West,  now’s your chance to get them all in one swoop, along with two TV reunion movies not previously released on DVD. The handsomely boxed The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series, new from Paramount, doesn’t come cheap, but collectively it sure beats buying the four seasons individually.

Of course, many loyal fans already may have purchased the individual season sets, and there’s the rub. Despite the relatively low quality of the two TV movies added to this full-series set, those movies are desired by fans who are completists. And such fans shouldn’t have to pay $90 or so just to get those two movies and an attractive box when they already have the four season sets.

It’s hoped that Paramount will issue the two TV movies individually at a later date, and at a reasonable price, of course. Until then, the only place to find 1979’s The Wild Wild West Revisited and 1980’s More Wild Wild West is in this big boxed full-series set.

Well, we can’t have everything, and have it all whenever we want, now can we?

Besides, I already know of one friend who’d held out on buying the season sets and is thrilled to get the entire series — and two movies — in one package. And let’s not forget the big picture: that The Wild Wild West was one of the more entertaining and original hybrids of ’60s TV, blending James Bond-style secret agents with Old West settings, though its villains’ crimes went far over the top at times, and anachronisms (as in the dreadful Will Smith theatrical film) prevailed.

After its more earnest first season — which also was the only one in black and white — WWW tended to topple over into fantasyland, and thus lose its endearing western identity. Still, stars Robert Conrad and Ross Martin remained an engaging pair of agents, and as in many shows, it’s the characters, not the stories, that most enthrall us. So saddle up and enjoy these “oaters” in whatever format suits you. The trail ahead is eventful, entertaining and long.

‘Lonesome Dove’: An American classic returns to DVD

August 3, 2008

OK, so I’m prejudiced. I was born and raised in Texas and still live in Houston, and whenever I watch Lonesome Dove, I get all misty-eyed.

It doesn’t take long — just the opening credits with that stirring Basil Poledouris music over a map of Texas. Seeing it and hearing it, I’m done. Game over. Pass the tissues!

And why? Not only because I love Texas with all its bigness and boldness, but because I love this landmark 1989 miniseries which did justice to Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Price-winning novel — by way of Austinite Bill Wittliff’s screenplay and Aussie Simon Wincer’s direction — with its eventful saga of aging former Texas Rangers, now ranchers, on a last-hurrah cattle drive. Graced by an unbelievably strong cast, Lonesome Dove marked the roles of a lifetime for both Robert Duvall as Gus McCrae and Texas-born Tommy Lee Jones as Woodrow Call, especially Duvall, who’s often said that Gus is the best character he’s ever played. And these feisty old friends are involved in more action, drama, humor and heartbreak than in any Western I’ve ever seen.

Now Lonesome Dove returns to DVD, courtesy of Genius Entertainment, and finally with some proper extras, after the sparse set issued by Cabin Fever. Billed as all-new though it was shot two decades ago (well, it’s newly seen), the 50-minute The Making of an Epic includes revealing on-set footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Shot at the time of filming in Texas and New Mexico, they provide intriguing anecdotes, including the fact that Duvall’s fine horsemanship not only saved his hide once when his horse bolted, but also provided a memorable shot, since it was used in the film.

Extras aside, the film itself is reward enough. As a quote from my former newspaper says on the DVD box cover, it may well be the best western ever made. I know it’s my favorite.

Everyone also has their favorite scenes, and mine include one set in San Antonio, where Gus and Woodrow arrive all tired and dirty and dusty as they step into a bar for some refreshment. Happily, an old friend of mine, Houston actor Brandon Smith, is in this scene, playing the surly barkeep who doesn’t realize Ranger royalty stand before him. When he gives Gus and Woodrow a hard time, Gus conks his head on the bar, points to a photo of himself and Woodrow when they were Rangers and demands not only a drink but some courtesy. He then quaffs his drink, tosses the glass in the air and shoots it in flight. The pride, audacity, resolve and reckless abandon of that single scene epitomize this entire miniseries.

So mosey up to the bar and order a shot of Lonesome Dove. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but for many of us Texans it just doesn’t get any better.

Yep, that’s me on ‘3:10 to Yuma’ box

January 4, 2008

Your faithful DVD reviewer hopes you’re looking forward to one of the best films of 2007, 3:10 to Yuma, when the Russell Crowe-Christian Bale-starring Western rides into video town next Tuesday, Jan. 8.

With more echoes of Oscar-winning classic High Noon than 1957’s original Yuma starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, director James Mangold’s film is exciting, absorbing and philosophically potent. The tale of a luckless farmer (Bale) who bravely agrees to take a captured outlaw (Crowe) to prison, it’s violent, all right, but not as a dramatic crutch, especially considering the powerful performances of its stars. Crowe is erudite, charismatic and quietly indomitable, while Bale is heart-breakingly flawed yet courageous. Ben Foster deserves a supporting-actor Oscar nod for his gun-crazy punk in Crowe’s employ, and don’t overlook Peter Fonda as one of Bale’s fellow escorts. Talk about icons — and yes, he has Western roots. The Hired Hand, anyone?

Normally I balk at Hollywood’s ceaseless hypefest, but in this film’s case — busted! Yep, that’s me, quoted endlessly on Yuma, from its DVD box’s front cover to its national TV ads to its web spots, in each case proclaiming it “The best Western since Unforgiven!”

So hysterically hypey. So shameless. So — wait a minute.

For one thing, keep in mind that the exclamation point wasn’t mine. Studios have always done that. Call it misleading, or call it “emphasis for artistic license.” For another, consider that calling anything the best Western in 15 years is almost like celebrating the best ice hockey team in the Sahara — there just aren’t a lot from which to choose.

But that’s not Yuma’s fault. The fact is, it’s a great film, and great films deserve special praise. Check it out next week. You’ll be glad you did.

Western James Bond owed much to James Dean-molded actor

January 2, 2008

Now that TV series are such big sellers on DVD, wouldn’t it be nice if more extra features were provided? I mean, they’re making enough money to merit extras, right?

Take The Wild Wild West, whose third season recently emerged from Paramount and CBS DVD. It’s a wonderful package with fine sound and picture quality, but unlike season one, it has no extras. Zip. Nada.

Then again, even when shows do get extras, they don’t always do the job. Take warm ’60s dramedy Family Affair, for which MPI has added interviews and featurettes for all four seasons reaching DVD so far. But none has ever acknowledged the 800-pound gorilla in the room, that being the fact that little Anissa Jones, who played sweetums twin Buffy, died just five years after the show ended, at age 18, from a drug overdose. Heck, even the season four DVD roundtable talk among the show’s child actors, with a cautionary look at pitfalls and dark sides, never mentioned poor Anissa’s fate, though it hardly could have been more germane.

Wild Wild West has a similarly sad lineage, at least when it comes to a two-time guest star on the show, Nick Adams.

Adams was essentially his era’s poor man’s James Dean, having appeared with Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and, devastated by Dean’s early death, then becoming a mercurial actor often cast as a “troubled young man.” That included his role in The Outer Limits episode Fun and Games, several years after Adams starred in his own TV western, The Rebel.

Adams was a friend to young Conrad Robert Falk, and encouraged the family man to  move from his home of Chicago to Hollywood in the 1950s and become an actor, too. The two appeared together in the 1965 film Young Dillinger just before Falk, renamed Robert Conrad, got cast in the soon to be hit show The Wild  Wild West.

It melded the James Bond spy craze to Old West settings (and some modern anachronisms), with Conrad starring as kick-butt Secret Service agent James West and Ross Martin playing his disguise-expert partner, Artemus Gordon.

Conrad later got his pal Adams cast twice on the show. First was a first-season episode called The Night of the Two-Legged Buffalo, in which Adams played a dangerously mischievious foreign prince with a smirk and a smile. Next was an episode for the new season four box set called The Night of the Vipers. In it, Adams plays a surly, suspicious sheriff, and though the show was in color (only year one of WWW was in B&W), it’s a pallid performance and little more than a one-note cameo.

What goes unsaid, along with everything else on the set (look, ma — no extras!), is that Adams, too, succumbed from drug use, at age 36, reportedly after an accidental overdose of medication he was using for nerves. That was in February of 1968, less than a month after his second and final Wild Wild West appearance aired.

Hollywood is littered with such stories, which seem even worse (yet somehow wryly humorous) in such contexts as Kenneth Anger’s two Hollywood Babylon tomes of the tawdry. Yet such sordid sagas aren’t necessarily an indictment of the show-biz company town. People die from drug overdoses in the “real” world, too — they just aren’t as high profile to draw as much notice. And plenty of actors, like Conrad, survive to a ripe old age.

Even so, with today’s DVDs of vintage shows casting so little light on their actors’ lives, you’d think every Nick Adams and Anissa Jones lived like Ward and June Cleaver, with hardly a care in the world. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a rich tapestry of relationships and lives, including the special bond between Conrad and Adams, those close friends who came together again for The Wild Wild West, just before fate wrenched them apart forever.